Sunday, January 19, 2020

Where Have All The Cowboys Gone

Back in 1996 Paula Cole recorded the song "where have all the Cowboys gone".  The tune was catchy and I remember liking it for that reason.  She says in part "where is my John Wayne?" as she ponders where the real heroes have gone.  Unfortunately in 2020 the landscape has only gotten worse.

"Where is my Marlboro Man, where is his shining gun?".  She is asking where men of principle have gone.  This week I found myself asking the same questions.

Self interest is not a new concept.  As early as Revolutionary War times there were people who were more concerned with their own affairs than the common good.  But even as recently as the 20th century we seemed to understand that while those selfish parties existed, those on the side of good and right would always prevail.  The tv shows always ended with the moral lesson.  The wrestling match always ended with the baby face winning the big match.  Batman always found a way out of the impossible trap to get the bad guy.

We no longer live in that world.  Where self interest was the stuff of villains, it is now an acceptable and embraced practice.  We celebrate infidelity on Maury.  We celebrate promiscuity on the Bachelor.  We celebrate lies and deceit in our leaders.  We celebrate violence in defense of weapons.  We celebrate walls, and violence, and death.  We used to celebrate the common man when he stood up for a weaker person.  This type of person was a hero....a John Wayne.

Paula was looking for men of integrity.  She was looking for men who would stand up for what was right, and never sell out to personal interests.  We have to look within ourselves and ask why we aren't being that person anymore.  We have to ask ourselves why we aren't demanding that morality and common goodness from our daily lives.

So the question still stands up 25 years later....where have all the heroes gone?

Monday, January 6, 2020

Lessons from a New Baby

The neighbors who live directly behind us are a wonderful family.  We often swim together, make bonfires, and watch the kids play together.  We are also devoted to each other, always there if the other needs a hand.  We are similar in many ways, and very different in others.  

Like our family, they face challenges that are very unique to them.  With four children, they experience a wide range of physical and emotional demands.  Not only are there individual struggles, but there are always the dynamics of dealing with each other.  With the oldest girl ready to graduate high school, and the youngest only in 6th grade, they are trying to navigate kids in all different stages of development.

In the summer, we found out that they were expecting (rather unexpectedly), child number 5.  I'm not sure how they felt when they got the news, but WE were shocked.  I couldn't imagine at my age being prepared to have another little life in the house.  It made me think about the sleepless nights, doctor bills, and constant vigilance required to have a baby.  

Since the baby came home yesterday, we decided to pay a short visit today to meet her, and to congratulate our dear friends.  We approached the door expecting it to open and hear a mix of children screaming and parents crying, or parents screaming and children crying.  The door opened and there was an instant calm and warmth in the house.  In fact, there was hardly any sound at all.  We were led to the family room where one daughter was laying on the floor, listening to music and doing homework.  The son was happy to welcome us, the oldest daughter was at work, and the ex-youngest daughter was upstairs.  Mom and baby were quietly laying on the couch, and Dad was relaxed in a chair.

After a few minutes it was my turn to hold the baby.  She was wrapped in a blanket that was so soft it felt like I was holding her in a cloud.  Other than a few squeaks and wiggles, she didn't have much to say.  She seemed to like me ok, so I think we will grow to be friends.  Suddenly I had that feeling like when I held Tyler for the first time.  The worries, the doubts, the questions, the uncertainties all fall away when you hold them in your arms.  All you see is pure love and innocence.  Not a single other thing in the world matters.

As I held her I looked around the room.  At that moment I remembered some things that I had been easily forgetting.  The one thing that mattered in that room, was family, and the addition of a new beautiful member to it.  That family shouldn't be consumed by its challenges and flaws, but rather living life in grace and for one another.  No matter what happens outside of that room, the love of family will carry them through.  Faith and family is all that they need every day, and the rest will take care of itself.

Welcome to the world H.G.E.  Its better now that you are here.

Be well and God bless.   Tom

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Bullying

Bullying is a subject that always seems to find its way into the news at regular intervals.  Schools are certainly trying to do what they can to control the issue, but they can't be everywhere all the time.  The solution starts at the home, and other entities have to do their parts as well.

I remember a few instances where Tyler was bullied.  Thankfully his environment was always very tightly controlled, but even with that, it could still happen.  One such issue was described to us as a typical boy holding onto the bill of Tyler's cap and refusing to let it go.  Tyler became angry and frustrated at the feeling, which caused him to become extremely aggressive until he calmed down.  Another such instance was in a restaurant with a caregiver, where a boy began mocking the sounds that Tyler was making.  An adult male, who was sitting at the table (I assume his father) began laughing and playing along.  Fortunately, Tyler didn't understand what was happening, but his caregiver surely did.

These are 2 extremely minor incidents, yet they made us feel absolutely horrible for Tyler.  The incident with the hat was a little easier to dismiss as stupid playground behavior, but the restaurant incident sticks with me.  These were people that went out of their way to mock Tyler in a public setting.  Worse yet, the father laughed and played along.  Obviously the child learned that to mock and bully someone would gain him adult approval.  What an awful example to set.

Sadly, bullying occurs every day.  Sadder still, the problem is not just limited to the children.  Adults can be seen bullying other adults on television, in the workplace, and everywhere else.  But it is the special needs children that are especially susceptible to the problem.  Our kids are not physically, mentally, or emotionally able to handle the problem, and may not have the ability to properly relay the problem to authority figures.  It may truly lead to situations where they have no defense at all.

Melania Trump has a public platform against bullying called "be best".  This is meant to denounce bullying of any kind, including cyberbullying.  Its a noble cause, as we know that bullying has lead to suicides as early as the age of 10.  Cyberbullying is particularly destructive because it can be so easily spread and so difficult to control.  I really do commend her for her efforts.

Unfortunately, she has become the very symbol of why bullying is so dangerous.  She, with the national platform, has made it a matter of convenience.  With her husband beside her launching twitter rants, often containing unfounded accusations, name-calling, and veiled threats, she goes silent.  She literally became the enabler for the very cause she made as her national platform.  The message it sends is loud and clear...fight bullying unless it is happening too close to home.  Worse than all of that, is the meager attempt at defending his actions by saying that the people essentially "asked for it" by being in the public eye.  Its beyond my knowledge of words to describe how crushingly bad that is to the real fight against bullying.

If you think I am reserving this for Melania Trump only, I'm not.  One would only have to watch 2 minutes of any "news channel" to find people trying to scream over the opinions of other people.  You could also watch the debates going on in Congress to see all the name-calling and half-truthing that you could possible stand.  Its everywhere.

BUT....the solution has to start SOMEWHERE.  And that somewhere has to involve the people at the top being held accountable for their own bullying behavior.  They cannot get a free pass.  We can't say that bullying under any circumstances is wrong, and then turn around and accept it from the person that is supposed to be leader of the free world.  When you do that, you might as well shut down the "be best" campaign, and keep a box of sticks at the doorway of every school for the bullies to use.  

Melania chose to make anti-bullying her mission.  Awesome.  She has been given her test in a big and difficult way, and she fell spectacularly on her face.  Not so awesome.  By failing her own cause, it is not some cute thing that can be debated on the news programs, it is a failure that genuinely hurts every child and special needs person who could be bullied in the future.  She just said it was "ok".  And that my friends, is the saddest truth of all.

Be well and God bless.  Tom

Monday, December 16, 2019

Tyler and the Christmas Season

He doesn't care about Christmas.  The end.

Perhaps it's not QUITE that simple, but this really does sum it up for him.  Christmas was a time that of course we all wanted to gear up for gatherings, presents, and the cheerfulness of the season.  For Tyler, much of it was quite the opposite.

What we saw as a cute photo opportunity with Santa, he saw as some stranger in a red suit making him sit on his lap.  What we saw as cool new toys wrapped in wrapping paper, he saw as distractions keeping him from his old toys that he wanted to play with.  What we saw as visiting and gatherings, he saw as overstimulating crowds.  

I always try to put myself in his place by thinking...what if I crash landed on a deserted island, didn't know the language, understand the customs, or knew what was going to happen to me next?  This is how he lives his entire life.  Christmas is not something he understands the way we do.  

When he was very small, we had an easier time getting through the holidays.  Tyler liked to go along with whatever we were doing.  But as he got older, things changed.  We would buy toys for Tyler that we thought he would enjoy, or that we thought would help him learn new skills.  Many of these toys would sit, untouched, in a corner of his play area, or in a closet.  As he became a teenager, opening gifts would actually make him angry, so we would have to spread the gifts out over a number of days, or wind up opening them ourselves.  As often happens with customs and abstract things that he could not understand, we struggled to let them go.  What kind of parents were we if we didn't buy our child lots of presents?  What kind of parents were we if we didn't give him the joy of Santa and Holiday parties?  

For Tyler, and all individuals with special needs, its about giving them what they truly want and need that is important.  Some may be excited with the lights and the joy surrounding Christmas, while others may need it to be more intimate and quiet.  We now get Tyler a gift basket full of treats and sweets that we know he likes.  We also take Tyler out for his favorite Mexican dinner and spend some time with him.  We also get him a few gift cards to eat his favorite foods throughout the year.  We might get him some new clothes if he needs them (which he rarely does).  In total we might get him one or two gifts to open.  It feels sad to even type that statement, as he deserves as many gifts as we could possibly bestow upon him, but when he gets angry at opening presents, who am I to argue?  That's the unfortunate irony, he deserves so many gifts, but he doesn't want them.  Not material gifts anyway.  

I do remember one fond memory at Christmas that I will always hold onto.  We were living at a former house, and Tyler was about 10 or so.  We had discovered that he loved ball pits at the local play land places.  We found a blow-up version that would hold hundreds of these plastic balls.  We set it up on Christmas eve, and grabbed the camera Christmas morning.  He came down the steps and looked around the corner.  You could see him take a second to process what he was seeing, then he ran full speed, jumping straight into the pit.  By the sounds he was making, we could tell that he was thrilled to have it.  Eventually the actually pit would deflate so often that it became a major pain, so we dumped hundreds of balls into a kiddie pool, and kept this in his room.  For months we would hear him launching himself into the pool early in the morning, or catch him sleeping in the pit overnight.  It was one of those lightening strike types of things that we would always work hard to find.  

If you are a special needs caregiver, and you struggle during the Holidays, you are far from alone.  After all, we have the things that we picture as being the way a Holiday is made.  We also have the world around us advertising how we should celebrate.  Then we have the special needs way of doing things, which often physically and emotionally conflict with everything else.  It can actually make the Holidays more stressful and even isolating.  We want to be able to tell stories about our children passing out from excitement at that one really cool gift, but often the experience is quite different.  It's ok...thats the world we live in.

Its important for us to remember, that caring for our loved one is the most important thing.  Our greatest gifts to them, and to each other, is to provide a strong spiritual foundation, a loving environment, safety, and security.  Everything else is just red suits and flashing lights.

Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday season!   Tom

Saturday, December 14, 2019

An Empath

5 years ago I sought the help of a threrapist.  I knew that Tyler would be leaving us soon and I wasn't sure how I would handle such a difficult adjustment.  I didn't want to go through it without an allie who could help me look at things objectively.

One of the very first things I described to him was this inexplicable feeling I had that I could feel things that were going on around me. It made me feel a little crazy in a way.  I wasn't trying to suggest that that I had some super power, but that I had some sensitivity that made me feel things within other people.  Like I could instantly tune in to a persons wavelength like most people tune into a radio station.

A week after starting therapy, Robin Williams committed suicide.  We discussed this in therapy and my doctor confided that many of his patients were hit hard by this but he wasn't sure why exactly.  Deep down I did know why.  I just didn't understand what it was I knew.  I could sense that under the comedian fecade that he felt immense pain for people around him.

There is term called an Empath.  Many wonderful people have the ability to understand what another person feels.  A person with empathy can look at a situation and put themselves in the other persons shoes.  An Empath is a person that automatically feels the emotions of others, without making a conscious effort.  In other words, an Empath reads emotions and places themselves in the minds of other people without intentionally doing so.  This was exactly what I was describing to my therapist.  I was an Empath.

It's very hard to be an Empath.  Those who are not empathetic frustrate us.  We struggle to understand why there is so much pain around us.  We struggle with people who seem unsympathetic to the needs around them.  The hate drains us like a negative life force.

If you have tremendous empathy, or you are so sensitive that you are an Empath, you should view this with a sense of pride.  Withou empathy, we cannot hope to help others.  It's only by putting ourselves in someone else's shoes that we can find compassion.

Be well and God bless.  Tom